Bobby Batliwala Grewal in Judgementall Hai Kya is almost like a reel embodiment of the real life actor trying to make a statement – “Don’t judge me with my on the surface psychic and narcissistic behaviour, I can often see things that you can’t, and all you need is the right perspective to sense what is more dangerous around.”
Director Prakash Kovelamudi along with writer Kanika Dhillon seed in this central theme wrapped in an interesting and twisted premise of addressing psychotic behaviour and human moral compass; and could have made a thrilling, weirdly experimental and quirky film out of it. Unfortunately, Kanika’s all over the place writing and Prakash’s random but super indulgent execution of the concept doesn’t do justice to what could have been a really good film. What sticks out as a sore thumb is the larger manipulative intent of the film that wants to serve more as a reel platform for validating a broader narrative of real. And hence it ends up using the sympathetic gaze towards mental health as more notional than being really honest and compassionate.
Having said that, and in spite of it’s unconvincing intent, there are things to like in the film. The first and foremost of those would be the performances of both Kangana Ranaut and Rajkummar Rao in their respective roles. These may not be very unique characters that they are playing for the first time, but they wonderfully feed off each other wherever they are face to face. Kangana Ranaut is excellent in places especially where she is not speaking and conveys far more strongly through her body language. She brings in a fascinating mix of innocence and eccentricity to Bobby. It’s only where she puts in too much effort to either produce a psychotic laugh or forcefully convey a point, where we wish she could have played it more coldly and subtly to add to the eeriness. She is there in almost every frame, the film is written tailor-made for her, and she definitely gives one of her more memorable performances in a long time.
Rajkummar Rao, on the other hand, doesn’t get a fully fleshed out character, and definitely deserved more meat to his part. But he makes more than full use of what he gets, and adds some delectable layering to his character sketch. When he gets his scope, he flows like a river outshining everyone and you only notice him on screen. He demanded a longer screen time, and a better back story. He has also possibly not looked this good on screen for very long now, and the makers do a great job with his differentiated looks in the two halves. Both of them are well supported by small but noteworthy performances by Amrita Puri and Hussain Dalal especially (he has some of the best lines in the film), while Satish Kaushik and Brijendra Kala appear in interesting cameos. On the other hand, the special appearance of Jimmy Shergill is rather cold and doesn’t add anything for the actor or the film.
The other piece that really worked well is how seamlessly it transports between the reel and real within the film, as Bobby blurs the lines between the characters she dubs for (and thinks that no can play them better than her), and how she infuses those emotions in her life. The cinematic switch between the two worlds is smart and smooth at the same time, and provides for some of the interesting moments in the film. The wall full of pictures from Ranaut’s earlier films, or Kanika Dhillon herself appearing as Sita in the play as the voice of Bobby further merge the reel and the real. The cinematography of Pankaj Kumar is on point and helps accentuate the trippy atmospherics of the film, with the low light shots particularly done well. It plays a significant part to establish the arcs of both Ranaut and Rao, how they perceive things and want us to do so as well. The costume design and hair & make up of Ranaut deserves a special mention. What is also interesting is how a peppy but a fresh remake of ‘Tauba Tauba‘ from Mr. Natwarlal is used across the film in bits and pieces. (Is it a mere coincidence that the song picked up was originally composed by Rajesh Roshan though?)
The same cannot be said about multiple other aspects of the film though. For every point scored for ‘Tauba Tauba’, the film scores double the negative for its jarring and amplified background score from start to finish, and no it doesn’t add to the psychedelic mood of the film. Underlining every single emotion, it just robs the film from its eerie gravitas. The same is true for the overall production design of the film which is way too busy, without much impact.
The film also appears extremely long even when it is timed at just about two hours. The big reason for the same is a rather weak and haywire second half of the film which feels way too stretched as it takes too much time to reach a climax that one can see from a distance. The entire overlaying of the Ramayana act with a dragging stretch of Bobby’s hallucinations seems like a desperate attempt to hammer down messaging, which honestly makes the film more abstract than trying to make it more accessible to the audience. And the clumsy climax with everything thrown at you takes it a few notches down further.
When the film was very interestingly set up in the first half especially from the point Rao enters the frame till the beginning of second half when Ranaut meets Rao again, it could have gone in so many interesting, crooked and sly directions building up on their characters. Rather, Prakash and Kanika give up on that ambition trading it off with a hyper-stylized and ultra busy treatment, thereby leaving the audience short changed on some real trippy psychological thrill. As I was watching the film, I was constantly reminded of what Kaalakaandi got right in a similar zone, and this one could not. Honestly that is frustrating coming from Kanika Dhillon, who had written one of the best scripts of last year with Manmarziyaan.
In fact, the lack of ambition and intent is reflected in many other parts of the film as well. The makers stay on the surface while touching on the issues like domestic violence and abuse, compassionate care for mental health and so on. Their entire approach to some of these deeply evocative issues appears more cursory and exuberant than heartfelt and passionate. They are more interested to overlay dialogues like ‘I will expose you‘ in their story to again encash on the real life deja vu of their star, rather than actually explore and expose the societal hypocrisy and insensitivity towards handling psychotic behaviour.
Which is disappointing! Because Judgementall Hai Kya could have been so much more. There was enough and more firepower in the premise to challenge everyone and everything around it. Rather, it chooses to fizzle out – just like its cop-out end supported with the ‘Wakhra swag‘ (of all things!) as the post credit song, especially after having a really decorated opening credit sequence soaked in the ‘beauty’ of origami! Some steep fall this – and yes, hard not to be judgemental about such an opportunity lost!